Bill Ackman launched his latest attack against Herbalife on Friday, releasing a highly critical video about the company at an event in New York.
The billionaire hedge fund manager, who stands to gain $1 billion if Herbalife's (HLF) stock price collapses, unveiled the 13-minute video featuring interviews with former distributors who say they were victimized by the company.
Ackman, who spoke briefly at Friday's event, said his Pershing Square hedge fund is not compensating the former distributors beyond paying their travel costs, hotel bills and providing a small per diem while they are in New York. However, he said the fund has indemnified them against any potential litigation by Herbalife.
The video marks the latest phase in a more than year-old campaign Ackman has waged against Herbalife, which he believes is a pyramid scheme.
Herbalife sells nutritional supplements and weight loss products via a global network of independent distributors.
Ackman argues that Herbalife is a pyramid scheme because it makes more money by recruiting new distributors than it does selling products to consumers. He says the company deliberately targets Latinos and other vulnerable immigrant groups.
Herbalife disclosed in March that it is being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission. The company has said that it is cooperating with the inquiry and hopes that it will clear up "misinformation" in the market.
Federal law enforcement officials have confirmed to CNN that the FBI and U.S. Justice Department are also looking into Herbalife, though the company has not commented on any criminal investigation.
In the film, the former distributors describe how they lost tens of thousands of dollars after being led to believe they would be able to earn up to $10,000 a month selling Herbalife products from home.
The former members of Herbalife's vast direct sales network all said they were encouraged to bend the truth when presenting the "business opportunity" to potential new members of the system.
"It's really not about selling Herbalife," one says. "It's really about getting people's money by bringing them into the business."
Herbalife dismissed the film before it came out. The company released a statement Thursday saying the video was "nothing more than propaganda."
"The company believes this is yet another tactic in Mr. Ackman's calculated, coordinated and well-funded effort to destroy a 34-year old company and support his $1 billion bet against Herbalife," the statement reads.
Herbalife also seized on the fact that veteran journalist Connie Chung had backed out of the event at the last minute. Chung was scheduled to moderate a panel discussion with some of the former distributors Friday, but she apparently had some reservations.
"I intended to fully vet every aspect of this complicated story but concluded I needed a team of researchers, which I did not have at my disposal," Chung is quoted as saying in a statement released by Pershing. "There were too many levels and sides to the story."
Herbalife said Chung's decision is a sign that the film is "misleading propaganda designed to help achieve [Ackman's] ultimate goal of enriching himself by driving down Herbalife's stock."
For his part, Ackman pointed to Herbalife's recent decision to buy back more than $1 billion worth of its own stock, a tactic he says is designed to prop-up the company's share price and limit the amount of money that can be recovered by potential victims.
"Most companies try to buy back stock at lowest possible price," he said. "It appears to us that Herbalife is buying back stock at the highest possible price in order to prop up the stock."
John Paulson made billions betting against subprime mortgages. Now, he says buying a house is the best possible investment.
If you already own a home, buy a second one. "You won't make returns that good by investing in me," Paulson told the audience at CNBC's Delivering Alpha conference in Manhattan on Wednesday.
Paulson said that back in 2006, he was aware that housing was at its peak. Now, he thinks it's still MOREMaureen Farrell - Jul 17, 2013 3:35 PM ET
Bill Ackman, the activist hedge fund manager who most recently made headlines over his big short position on Herbalife, zeroed in on Procter & Gamble at the Sohn Investment Conference in New York Wednesday.
The CEO of Procter & Gamble (PG) is one busy man, but that doesn't mean he's solely focused on his work at the helm of one of the world's largest corporations.
Bob McDonald, who's led P&G MOREMaureen Farrell - May 8, 2013 3:38 PM ET
Shares of Herbalife (HLF) bounce back from a sharp drop Monday morning after the New York Post reported that the company is the subject of a federal investigation. Herbalife's stock fell nearly 13% shortly after the open but finished the day up more than 1%.
The investigation was revealed after the Federal Trade Commission disclosed a list of 192 complaints against Herbalife from the past seven years in response to a Freedom of Information Law request MOREHibah Yousuf - Feb 4, 2013 4:01 PM ET
The Dreamliners may be temporarily grounded, but one hedge fund manager is betting that aircraft makers are about to take off.
"The aerospace industry was essentially put on hold during the few years since the financial crisis, but now there is a real need for modern planes," said Dinakar Singh, founder and CEO of New York-based hedge fund TPG-Axon Capital Management, adding that he expects the industry will enjoy strong and MOREHibah Yousuf - Jan 17, 2013 4:26 PM ET
The possibility of a worldwide depression or a market crash doesn't keep Ray Dalio, founder of the world's largest hedge fund, up at night.
The world, especially southern Europe, may be standing on the edge of an abyss, says Bridgewater Associates' Dalio, but he has faith in the power of central bankers around the globe to essentially print money as needed.
"The world has a lot of liquidity," Dalio said Wednesday morning, MOREMaureen Farrell - Sep 12, 2012 2:03 PM ET
Barton Biggs, a former Morgan Stanley global strategist and pioneer of the hedge fund industry, has died.
Morgan Stanley (MS) chief executive James Gorman disclosed Briggs' death Monday in a memo to employees. A spokeswoman for the bank said Briggs died Saturday after a suffering from a blood infection. He was 79.
"Barton left an indelible mark on our business, our culture and our shared notion of leadership at Morgan Stanley," Gorman MOREBen Rooney - Jul 16, 2012 1:11 PM ET
Investors worried about Europe imploding may find solace in two new ETFs that launched Wednesday and offer portfolio protection against so-called black swan events.
Coined by economist and former derivatives trader Nassim Taleb, a black swan event is one that's highly improbable and unforeseen, like the 2008 financial crisis and Japan's 2011 nuclear disaster.
Horizons Universa Canadian Black Swan ETF and the Horizons Universa US Black Swan ETF track the S&P 500 MOREMaureen Farrell - May 30, 2012 1:49 PM ET
Not a member yet?Sign up now for a free account
|Boom: Alibaba surges 38% in huge IPO debut|
|Hey Occupy Wall Street, abolish my debt too!|
|How young tech millionaires invest|
|Spending cuts to education and nutrition will hurt kids|
|Government sues Corinthian Colleges for predatory lending|